Return to the Shepherd

Return to the Shepherd

Text: Luke 24:1-12; 1 Peter 2:21-25
Easter Sunday, April 12, 2020

Happy Easter, everyone! Now this is an Easter like no other… at least no other that I can remember. And yet I am struck by the similarities in our situation and that of the early followers of Jesus.

I come to this passage every year – the one about the women coming at early dawn to the tomb of Jesus. I look forward to the surprise and news of the angels – that “he is not here, but he has risen.” And I give thanks for the women who took this news to the disciples and spurred them to come and see for themselves. It is Easter; he is risen; Alleluia!

Though I have been aware of it, I have always passed over one detail of the story… until this year. We often speak of it a week or two after Easter, when Jesus comes to the disciples in the Upper Room, through a locked door. But it’s tucked into this Easter morning story as well…

The disciples are staying home. All but one of them fled the scene of the crucifixion and Peter notoriously swore out loud that he didn’t know Jesus. Reading here that the women had to carry the news of the empty tomb to them, and knowing that Jesus would soon find them behind locked doors, we can surmise that they are staying home. They are hiding out. They don’t want the deadly attentions given to Jesus to fall on them.

And so they have two challenges before them: they are holed up and avoiding contact and they have mostly all abandoned their Lord, thinking him dead and fearing trouble.

Holed Up at Home

I think we know something of what it’s like to be holed away behind locked doors. Our reasons are different. We don’t fear the Roman guard coming to take us to jail or crucifixion, but we do fear contamination, sickness, and maybe even death. We are being careful and doing the things our doctors and scientists caution us to do – and rightly so. But it wears on you, doesn’t it?

They had been holed up for three days. We’ve been at it for a couple of weeks. You start to go a little stir-crazy. Maybe you even start to question what God is up to.

Maybe those questions started long before this, after the last really hard thing in life, or maybe after just getting out of the habit. I’m not sure those distinctions ultimately matter; many of us know a bit about what those disciples were feeling.

Where is God?

They thought they had found God. Actually, I’m pretty sure they were convinced of that. And then he wasn’t quite what they were expecting; and then he was arrested and executed. That definitely wasn’t expected. And now they were afraid and along some continuum of feeling disconnected from God to having abandoned their faith in God.

Starting Easter morning and on through the coming days and weeks, each one had to come to terms with those feelings and beliefs in their own time and manner. Peter and John went running to see; others stayed holed up, awaiting word; Thomas missed Jesus coming by and had to see with his own eyes and touch with his own hands.

Return to the Shepherd of Your Soul

But I am struck by the words of that same Peter, writing years later of these events. And he broadens the application and the invitation out beyond those first followers. After summarizing all that Christ had done, he writes:

You were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls. (1 Peter 2:25)

While a pandemic may magnify our faith-challenges, Peter puts his finger on a harder truth: we CONTINUALLY stray from God. That line from the hymn rings true: we feel it – we are “prone to wander.” That’s why the Shepherd image is so compelling. The biblical story is not one of human beings having to accomplish this task or that to make their way ever-closer to God and eventually to heaven or bliss or salvation. The biblical story is the story of the Shepherd, even the Guardian of our souls… the God who comes after us in love.

In this sentence Peter also describes something he experienced: returning to the Shepherd. We return in a number of ways. Sometimes we are lost, then found by God or God’s Spirit working through us or someone else. Sometimes we have turned away and hardened our hearts and God softens them and welcomes us home. What we do see consistently is that a ‘return’ is involved and that God is involved in that return.

That’s what I want to focus on this Easter: returning to the Shepherd and Guardian of your soul. That’s the final sentence in Peter’s summary of the Easter story. Jesus did all these things: suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried… for us. But the end of that summary is the return of those who were straying to the arms of the Good Shepherd.

So let me re-frame the Easter litany as an invitation to you this morning:

Christ is risen; Christ is risen indeed!
Come you who are weary
Come you who are lost
Come you who have wandered
Return to the Shepherd and Guardian of your soul.
Alleluia and Amen.

Some Music Used

  • Easter Song (arr. K Green) – Call to Worship/Solo
  • Christ the Lord is Risen Today
  • What a Beautiful Name
  • In Christ Alone